Greek War of Independence 1821 in Art 

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After the Battle of Greece, destruction and starvation

The Battle of Greece was an important World War II battle which occurred on the Greek mainland and in southern Albania. The battle was fought between the Allies (Greece and the British Commonwealth) and the Axis (Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) forces. The battle of Greece began on October 28, 1940, when Fascist Italy invaded Greece, and ended with the fall of Kalamata in the Peloponnese. With the Battle of Crete and several naval actions it is considered part of the wider Aegean component of the Balkans Campaign of World War II.

Fascist Italy invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, from Italian-occupied Albania. The Greek army however, proved to be an able opponent, counterattacked and forced the Italians to retreat. By mid-December the Greeks occupied one quarter of Albania, tying down 530,000 Italian troops. In March 1941 a major Italian counterattack failed, humiliating Italian military pretensions.

On April 6, 1941, Nazi Germany reluctantly invaded Greece through Bulgaria to secure its southern flank. The Greek troops fought back with great tenacity but the Greek army was vastly outnumbered and outgunned, and it collapsed. Athens fell on April 27 and the British Commonwealth managed to evacuate nearly 50,000 troops. The Battle of Greece, however, is credited by some historians, such as John Keegan, as being "decisive in determining the future course of the Second World War"[3] as the invasion of the area made it impossible for Hitler and Stalin to come to an agreement on their respective spheres of influence.


Main article: Greco-Italian War

Nazi Germany had unleashed its Blitzkrieg and overrun much of Western Europe. Benito Mussolini had grown jealous of Hitler’s conquests and wanted to show his Axis partner that he too could lead Italy to similar military conquests. Italy, in 1939, had already occupied Albania (Greece’s north-western neighbour) and several British Commonwealth strongholds in Africa but could not boast victories such as those of Nazi Germany. Mussolini, who regarded South-eastern Europe as lying within the Italian sphere of influence, decided to invade Greece as it seemed to be an easy opponent.[4] Mussolini told Count Ciano: "Hitler always faces me with a fait accompli. This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin. He will find out from the papers that I have occupied Greece."[5]

Map of Greco-Italian war.

Italian invasion and the Greek counterattack

In the early morning hours of October 28, 1940, Italian Ambassador Emmanuel Grazzi awoke Greek Premier Ioannis Metaxas and presented him an ultimatum. Mussolini demanded free passage for his troops to occupy unspecified "strategic sites" inside Greek territory.[6] Greece had been friendly towards National Socialist Germany, especially profiting from mutual trade relations, but now Germany's ally Italy was to invade Greece (without Hitler's awareness) partly to prove that Italians could match the military successes of the German Army in Poland and France. Metaxas rejected the ultimatum (commemorated as Okhi Day in Greece). Even before the ultimatum had expired Italian troops invaded Greece from Albania.[7]

According to historian, and former war-correspondent, Christopher Buckley, Mussolini preferred that the Greeks would not accept the ultimatum but that they would offer some kind of resistance. Buckley writes, "documents later discovered showed that every detail of the attack had been prepared.... His prestige needed some indisputable victories to balance the sweep of Napoleonic triumphs of Nazi Germany."[8] The principal Italian thrust was delivered in the Pindus towards the city of Ioannina and made some progress at first. The Greek troops, unable to match the Italian armour or Italian attacks from the air, took to higher ground and lobbed their mortar shells and artillery pieces down upon the massed enemy.

The invaders crossed the Kalamas river and approached Ioannina but were soon driven back and pursued beyond Greek territory and into Albania. Further north the Greeks checked Italian attempts to advance, and then passed on the offensive. Within three weeks Greek territory was clear of the invader and a full scale counterattack was in place.[9]

The counterattack was met with great success, a change in Italian commanders and the arrival of considerable reinforcements having little effect. Korce, the largest town in Albania fell to Greek forces on November 13, to be followed by Pogradec, Argyrokastron on December 4, Himare on December 24 and Kelcyre on January 10.[10]

Extent of Greek advance.

Italian spring offensive

Extent of Greek advance.After weeks of inconclusive winter warfare the Italians, supervised by Mussolini himself, launched a full scale counterattack all along the front on March 9, 1941. Within two hours, 100,000 rounds of artillery were fired and Greek positions were bombed from the air. Despite the superiority of the Italian armed forces, the counterattack failed. After one week and 12,000 casualties, Mussolini called off the counterattack.[11] He left Albania twelve days later with his prestige tarnished.[12] It was now up to Nazi Germany to intervene. In the six month fight against Italy, the Greek army had conducted itself well, but had rendered itself too exhausted to stand up to a German invasion. More importantly, the main mass of the Greek army was fighting in Albania, and could not be used to fight against the German invasion.[13]

British aid to Greece and the diplomatic background

In 1939 the United Kingdom had extended a guarantee of military aid if Greek territorial integrity was threatened. The British were committed to fighting in North Africa and could not spare many military units or war material to assist Greece. British public opinion was inspired by the way the Greeks had repulsed the Italians, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill thought it would be dishonourable not to aid the Greeks. The first British help to Greece were a few RAF squadrons under Air Vice-Marshal John d'Albiac, sent to aid the small Royal Hellenic Air Force in November 1940,[14] while with the consent of the Greek government, British forces occupied Crete on 3 October, releasing the 5th Cretan Division for the Albanian front.

Early on, however, voices were raised among the British commanders against committing some of the already limited forces from North Africa to mainland Greece, a move which would weaken both their position in Libya, and be of little help to the Greeks. The Greeks, on the other hand, were afraid of provoking the Germans, although they were determined to resist an invasion, if it came. At a meeting with British Commander-in-Chief Middle East, Archibald Wavell, in January 1941, Greek Commander-in-Chief Papagos requested nine fully equipped divisions for the Greco-Bulgarian border. When Wavell answered that he could dispose of only 2-3 divisions, the offer was turned down, as the force was totally inadequate, and would only hasten German intervention.[15] Churchill, however, by now hoped to recreate the Balkan Front of World War I with the participation of Yugoslavia and Turkey, and sent Anthony Eden and Sir John Dill for negotiations to the region.

At a meeting in Athens on February 22 between Eden and the Greek leadership, the decision to send a British Commonwealth expeditionary force was taken. Already German troops had been massing in Romania, and on 1 March 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis. As German forces began crossing the Danube into the country, the German invasion was now imminent. 58,000 British, Australian, and New Zealand troops were sent to Greece in March 1941 in Operation Lustre, comprising 6th Australian Division , New Zealand 2nd Division, and British 1st Armoured Brigade Group.[16] The three formations later became known as 'W' Force from their commanding general Henry Maitland Wilson. Although earmarked for Greece, the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade and the Australian 7th Division were kept by Wavell in Egypt because of Erwin Rommel's successful thrust into the Cyrenaica.[17]

Eden however failed to entice Turkey to abandon her neutrality, while Yugoslavia, under intense German pressure, prevaricated, until it joined the Axis on March 25. Almost immediately, a successful Serb-backed, pro-Allied coup was launched on March 27, but it came too late to allow for the creation of the coherent alliance that Churchill had dreamed of.

Allied troop dispositions prior to the German invasion

Despite increasing evidence of German troops crossing the Danube into Bulgaria in the early spring of 1941, the Greek and British Commonwealth—U.K., Australian and New Zealand—forces operating in the region were unable to establish a cohesive front because of disagreements between their respective commands.[18]

The Greeks had been insistent on fighting their battle along the Metaxas Line, a massive line of fortifications that had been built along the Bulgarian border in the late 1930s. This course of action was expected to take advantage of the naturally difficult terrain and the prepared fortifications, while protecting the strategically important port of Thessaloniki . It disregarded the fact however, that the forces and equipment available were only adequate for a token resistance, and that the Metaxas Line was vulnerable to flanking through the Vardar Valley if the neutrality of Yugoslavia was violated. Obsessed with the rivalry against Bulgaria, and being on traditionally good terms with the Yugoslavs, the Greeks had left the Yugoslav border largely undefended.[19]

By contrast, W Force formed a main line of resistance along the Kleidi line, running in a roughly south-east direction from the town of Edessa to the delta of the Vardar River. The advantage of this course of action was that it required fewer forces, and that more time would be available for preparing the position. However, it also involved abandoning nearly the whole of Northern Greece, which was unacceptable to the Greeks for political and psychological reasons. Moreover, the left flank of this line too was susceptible to flanking from Germans operating through the Monastir gap in Yugoslavia.[20]

The product of this disagreement was that eventually two distinct lines of resistance were set up, one along the Metaxas Line and one along the Kleidi line, both of which were undermanned. Predictably, both were easily overrun by the Germans, despite occasional acts of heroism. From the onset however, the Allies were at a huge disadvantage because the main mass of the Greek army was committed in Albania and could not be used to face the German threat.

German invasion

Metaxas Line

On April 6, 1941, the German Army invaded northern Greece, while other elements launched an attack against Yugoslavia. The Metaxas Line was defended by the Greek Eastern Macedonia Army Section (Tμήμα Στρατıάς Ανατολικής Μακεδονίας or TΣAM) under the command of Lt. General Konstantinos Bakopoulos, comprising 7th, 14th and 17th Infantry Divisions, all under-strength. The line ran for ca. 170 km along the River Nestos in the east, and then along the Bulgarian border as far as Mount Beles near the Yugoslav border. The fortifications were designed to garrison an army of over 200,000 but were only manned by roughly 70,000 soldiers to face the German threat due to lack of manpower. As a result of the small numbers, the line's defences were spread thin.[21] Furthermore, TSAM had severe deficiencies in anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, as most had been sent to Albania, and Bakopoulos' only reinforcements were the units of the Central Macedonia Army Section (TSKM), 19th, 12th and 20th Divisions, which were severely under-manned and equipped with obsolete or captured weapons. The situation was summed up by Papagos,: "We do not expect TSAM to perform miracles, but simply to safeguard the honour of Greece."

Initial German attacks against the Metaxas Line by mountain troops (5th and 6th Mountain Divisions) encountered extremely tough resistance and resulted with limited success. A German report at the end of the first day said that the German 5th Mountain Division "was repulsed in the Rupel Pass despite strongest air support and sustained considerable casualties."[22] Historian Christopher Buckley wrote, "Heavy assaults against the Metaxas Line were hurled back with the courage of despair.... The defenders were attacked by wave after wave of infantry, bombed by Stukas, shelled without respite by light and heavy artillery.... Assault teams with flame-throwers, hand grenades and explosive charges were engaged and worsted in close quarters fighting."[23] After one day of fighting out of the twenty-four forts which made up the Metaxas Line only two had fallen and only after they had been destroyed.[24]

However effective the resistance of the Metaxas Line was, the Germans found alternate routes of attack. Yugoslav resistance in the north quickly collapsed and German forces poured into Greek territory via Yugoslavia by April 7. The line was quickly outflanked by German Panzer forces (2nd Panzer Division) which invaded through southern Yugoslavia and advanced down the Vardar Valley where they rapidly defeated the sporadic resistance from the Greek forces of TSKM. On April 9 elements of the 2nd Panzer had reached Thessaloniki, and the remaining Greek forces of the TSAM were reluctantly forced to surrender. Even after General Bakopoulos surrendered the Metaxas Line however, the soldiers manning the frontier forts, and some of the field troops, continued to fight on and as a result of this continued resistance, about half of the soldiers of the Metaxas line were able to evacuate by sea.[25]

German artillery shelling the Metaxas Line.

Allied retreat

W Force had only began to settle in their defensive line when news of the German invasion came. The outcome of initial clashes with the Germans at Vevi were not encouraging and the rapid advance of the Panzers into Thessaloniki and Prilep in Southern Yugoslavia greatly disturbed Wilson. Wilson was now faced with the prospect of being pinned by the invading Germans operating from Thessaloniki while being flanked by the German XL Panzer Corps descending through the Monastir Gap. This necessitated a retreat, initially to the Aliakmon river, and then to the narrow pass at Thermopylae, where the Germans broke through again on April 23.[26]


Main article: Battle of Vevi (1941)

On the morning of April 10, the German XL Panzer Corps advanced from Monastir to seize the Greek city of Florina, 13 km (8 mi) south of the Yugoslav border, utilising the Monastir Valley (or "Monastir Gap"). The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler brigade advanced further south and occupied the town of Vevi on April 11. The Allies decided to attempt a delaying action at the Klidi Pass, just south of Vevi.

A mixed Commonwealth-Greek formation, known as Mackay Force, was assembled to, as Wilson put it, "....stop a Blitzkrieg down the Florina Valley."[27] The force was named after its leader, the Australian Maj. Gen. Iven Mackay. The units at the Klidi Pass itself were the Australian 19th Infantry Brigade minus one battalion, which was replaced by a British battalion, from the King's Royal Rifle Corps. The infantry were supported by some Australian and British artillery crews, and New Zealand machine gunners. The other components of Mackay Force were in flanking positions some distance from the pass. By April 11, the three infantry battalions were spread across a 16 km (ten mile) wide front centred on the narrow, winding pass, which had steep and rocky sides.

Kampfgruppe Witt, an SS battle group under Sturmbannführer Fritz Witt,[28] began a series of probing attacks that afternoon. These were fended away with vigour, but became more aggressive as night closed in. On the morning of April 12, snow lay over 30 cm (one foot) deep on the hillsides and many Allied troops in the high ground were suffering from frostbite.[29] However, orders had now been issued for an orderly withdrawal to the Aliakmon line that evening.

The SS launched their main assault at 8.30 am. Australian forces on the western flank were forced back, but later counter-attacked and regained the crest.[30] However, the British infantry began to withdraw, believing that the Australians were retreating. This opened the pass itself to the Germans. In the late afternoon, the Greek Dodecanese Regiment began a planned withdrawal in the east, leaving the forces at Klidi further exposed. The arrival of German tanks at 5.30 pm sealed the Allies' defeat at Vevi. The Australian infantry were forced into a chaotic retreat. The Germans claimed 520 prisoners for the loss of 37 dead, 95 wounded and a few taken prisoner. The remainder of Mackay Force regrouped temporarily in the Sotir area.

Olympus and Servia passes

By the morning of April 14, the spearheads of the 9th Panzer Division reached Kozani after violent clashes with British tanks and anti-tank guns. That same evening the division established a bridgehead across the Aliakmon River and the Allies fell back to a line which ran near Mt. Olympus. This defense had three main components: the Platamon tunnel area between Olympus and the sea, the Olympus Pass itself, and the Servia Pass south-east. By channelling attack through these three defiles, the new line offered far greater defensive strength for the limited forces available. The defences of the Olympus and Servia passes consisted of the 4th New Zealand Brigade, 5th New Zealand Brigade, and the 16th Australian Brigade. For the next three days the advance of the 9th Panzer Division was stalled in front of these strongly fortified mountain positions.[31]

The Platamon tunnel came under attack from German motor cycle troops on April 15, but the Germans were repulsed by the 21st New Zealand Battalion under Colonel Macky, which suffered heavy losses in the process. Later that day a German armoured regiment arrived and struck the coastal and inland flanks of the battalion, but the New Zealanders held their ground. After being reinforced during the night of the 15th-16th, the Germans managed to assemble a tank battalion, infantry battalion, and a battalion of motor cycle troops. The German infantry attacked the New Zealanders left company at dawn, while the tanks attacked along the coast several hours later. Macky, who had lost communications with the company on his left, and had two companies farther down the hill being fired upon from the flank and the rear, gave the order to retire.[32]

The withdrawal was covered by the reserve company, which was on a ridge south of that pierced by the tunnel. Macky had intended to hold a new position about one mile south of Platamon, but this was found to be impracticable, and continued the retirement to the mouth of the Pinios Gorge. Macky was informed that it was "essential to deny the gorge to the enemy till 19th April even if it meant extinction".[33] Macky sank the crossing barge at the western end of the gorge once all his men were across and began to set up defences. The 21st battalion was reinforced by the Australian 2/2nd Battalion and later by the 2/3rd, this force became known as Allen force after Maj General Arthur Samuel Allen. The 2/5th and 2/11th battalions moved to the Elatia area south-west of the gorge and were ordered to hold the western exit possibly for three or four days.[34]

On April 16 General Wilson met General Papagos at Lamia and informed him of his decision to withdrawal to Thermopylae. General Blamney divided responsibility between generals Mackay and Freyberg during the leapfrogging move back to Thermopylae. Mackay would protect the flanks of the New Zealand Division as far south as an east-west line through Larissa and would control the withdrawal through Domokos to Thermopylae of Savige Force and the Zarkos Force, and finally of Lee Force; the 1st Armoured Brigade would cover the withdrawal of Savige Force to Larissa and thereafter the withdrawal of the 6th Division under whose command it would come; Freyberg would control the withdrawal of Allen Force which was to move along the same route as the New Zealand Division. The British Commonwealth forces remained under constant attack throughout the entire withdrawal.[35]

Withdrawal and surrender of the Greek First Army

As the invading Germans advanced deep into Greek territory, the Greek First Army operating in Albania against the Italians was reluctant to retreat. General Wilson described this reluctance as “the fetishistic doctrine that not a yard of ground should be yielded to the Italians.”[36] Because of this reluctance to yield ground to the Italians, the Greek retreat did not materialise until April 13. The Allied retreat to Thermopylae uncovered a route across the Pindus Mountains by which the Germans might take the Greek army in flank and rear. An SS regiment was given the mission of cutting off the Greek First Army's line of retreat from Albania by driving westward to the Metsovon Pass, and from there, to Ioannina.[37]

Greek commander in chief, Alexander Papagos, rushed Greek units to the Metsovon Pass, where the Germans were expected to attack. On April 18, a pitched battle between several Greek units and the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler brigade developed there. The Greek units fought bravely, but lacked equipment necessary to fight against a motorised unit, and were soon encircled and overwhelmed. The Germans advanced further and captured Ioannina on April 19, the final supply route of the Greek First Army.[38] Newspapers around the world dubbed the Greek army's fate as a modern day Greek tragedy. Historian and former war-correspondent, Christopher Buckley, when describing the fate of the Greek army, writes, " experiences a genuine Aristotelian Katharsis, an awe-inspiring sense of the futility of all human effort and all human courage..."[39]

On April 20, the commander of the Greek forces in Albania, General Georgios Tsolakoglou offered his surrender to the advancing Germans. World War II historian John Keegan writes that Tsolakoglou "was so determined, however, to deny the Italians the satisfaction of a victory they had not earned that, once the hopelessness of his position became apparent to him, he opened quite unauthorised parley with the commander of the German SS division opposite him, Sepp Dietrich, to arrange a surrender to the Germans alone."[40] The original surrender document did not include the Italians. Outraged by this decision, Mussolini ordered counterattacks against the Greek forces which had just surrendered, and to Mussolini's embarrassment, these counterattacks were repulsed. It took personal representation from Mussolini to Hitler to bring about an armistice in which Italy was included on April 23.[41] In recognition of the valour displayed by Greek forces, the enlisted men were allowed to return to their homes (rather than being confined to POW camps) and officers were permitted to retain their sidearms.[42]

Thermopylae position

Following the retreat from the Olympus and Servia passes the British Commonwealth forces began to set up defensive position at the historic pass at Thermopylae (Thermopylae is famous for the 300 Spartans under King Leonidas who fought to the death against a gigantic Persian army in 480 BC). General Bernard Freyberg was given the task of defending the coastal pass with Mackay defending the village of Brallos. In the New Zealand sector the 5th Brigade was deployed along the coastal road, the foothills south of Lamia, and the Spercheios River. The 4th Brigade was on the right where it had established coast-watching patrols, and the 6th was in reserve. In the Australian sector the 19th Brigade, comprising the 2/4th and 1/8th Battalions, defended Brallos.[43] On 19 April the 2/1st and 2/5th Battalions were placed under the comand of Maj Gen George Vasey, and that day and during the early hours of the next, 2/11th Battalion rejoined the brigade.[44] Gererals Freyberg and Mackay had been informing their subordinates that there would be no more withdrawals, both unaware of the higher level discussions on the evacuation.[45] After the battle Mackay was quoted as saying.

I thought that we'd hang on for about a fortnight and be beaten by weight of numbers[46]

When the order to retreat was received on the morning of the 23rd it was decided that each of the two positions was to be held by one brigade each. These brigades, the Australian 19th and 6th New Zealand were to hold the passes as long as possible, allowing the other units to withdraw. General Vasey, commander of the 19th Brigade said

Here we bloody well are and here we bloody well stay[47]

which was interpreted by his brigade major as the "Brigade will hold its present defensive positions come what may".[48] The Germans attacked on April 24, met fierce resistance, lost fifteen tanks and sustained considerable casualties. The Allies held out the entire day. With the delaying action accomplished, they retreated in the direction of the evacuation beaches and set up another rearguard at Thebes.[49]

German airborne attack on the Isthmus of Corinth

After the Thermopylae position was forced, the Germans staged an airborne operation to seize the bridges over the Corinth Canal, with the double aim of both cutting off the British line of retreat, and securing their own way across the isthmus. The attack, carried out by the 2nd Regiment of 1st Fallschirmjäger Division on April 26, met with initial success, until a stray British shell ignited the disconnected demolition charges, destroying the bridge and causing several casualties.[50] Although German engineers managed to construct a temporary bridge within hours, over which 5th Panzer division crossed to the Peloponnese, the attack came a few days too late to cut off the bulk of the British troops in Central Greece, but did manage to isolate the Australian 16th and 17th Brigades.[51] By the time the isthmus was secured, most Allied units had already begun to evacuate from the town of Kalamata and other small harbours.

Athens Falls

On April 27, 1941, German motorcycle troops entered the Greek capital Athens, followed by armoured cars, tanks, and infantry. The people of Athens had been expecting the Germans to enter the city for several days and kept themselves confined to their homes with their windows shut. The previous night Athens Radio had made the following announcement:

You are listening to the voice of Greece. Greeks, stand firm, proud, and dignified. You must prove yourselves worthy of your history. The valour and victory of our army has already been recognised. The righteousness of our cause will also be recognised. We did our duty honestly. Friends! Have Greece in your hearts, live inspired with the fire of her latest triumph and the glory of our army. Greece will live again and will be great, because she fought honestly for a just cause and for freedom. Brothers! Have courage and patience. Be stouthearted. We will overcome these hardships. Greeks! With Greece in your minds you must be proud and dignified. We have been an honest nation and brave soldiers.[52]

The German motorcycle troops drove straight to the Acropolis and raised the Nazi flag. In the days that followed, the people of Athens, and newspapers around the World, told different stories of the raising of the German flag. According to the most popular account, the Evzone soldier on guard duty, Konstantinos Koukidis, took down the Greek flag, wrapped himself in it, and jumped off the Acropolis. Whether the story was true or not, many Greeks believed the story and looked at the soldier as a martyr.[53]


After some brief holding actions on the Peloponnese, the Greek and British Commonwealth forces had to be evacuated to Crete and Egypt. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was evacuated on the night of 24 April, while the 4th New Zealand Brigade remained to block to narrow road to Athens, which was dubbed the 24 Hour Pass by the New Zealanders.[54] On 25 April, Anzac Day some 5500 Australian troops of the Australian 19th Brigade were evacuated from the beaches at Nauplion by HMAS Perth, Stuart and Voyager.[55] The evacuation of about 43,000 soldiers was completed on April 28, but was heavily contested by the German Luftwaffe, which managed to sink at least twenty-six troop-laden ships. The Germans managed to capture around 8,000 Commonwealth and Yugoslav troops who had not been evacuated, while liberating many Italian prisoners from POW camps[56]

Battle of Crete

Main Article: Battle of Crete

German paratroopers land in Crete, May 1941

Following the occupation of the mainland, Nazi Germany invaded the Greek island of Crete on May 20, 1941. In the bitterly contested Battle of Crete, the Germans employed parachute forces in a massive airborne invasion. The Germans attacked the three main airfields of the island of Maleme, Rethimnon, and Heraklion. The Germans met surprising resistance from the Greek, British, Australian, and New Zealand troops on the island and from local civilians. After one day of fighting, none of the objectives were reached and the Germans had suffered around 4,000 casualties.[57] German plans were in disarray and Commanding General Kurt Student was contemplating suicide.

During the next day, through miscommunication and failure of Allied commanders to grasp the situation, Maleme airfield in western Crete fell to the Germans. With Maleme airfield secure, the Germans flew in thousands of reinforcements and overwhelmed the western side of the island. After seven days of fighting Allied commanders realised that so many Germans had been flown in that hope of Allied victory was gone. By June 1, 1941, the evacuation of Crete by the Allies was complete and the island was under German occupation. In light of the heavy casualties suffered by the elite 7th Flieger Division, Adolf Hitler forbade further airborne operations.[58] General Kurt Student would dub Crete "the graveyard of the German paratroopers" and a "disastrous victory."[59]


The speed of the German tank movements through the rugged Balkan Mountains and the efficiency of the campaign amazed military men around the world. At the same time, the Greek and Allied troops gave, what many historians such as John Keegan and Antony Beevor believe, an astonishingly effective resistance given their limited resources. Historian John Keegan writes "The Greek campaign had been an old-fashioned gentlemens's war, with honour given and accepted by brave adversaries on each side."[60] Keegan also writes that the Greek and Allied forces, being vastly outnumbered, "had, rightly, the sensation of having fought the good fight."[61]

The overall German casualties in the Battle of Greece, as they were officially announced by Germany after the end of the operation, are roughly 5,000 men including 1,100 dead. The actual losses, as they are estimated are 11,500, with 2,500 dead. The Allied expeditionary force lost approximately a quarter of its 58,000 strength including 11,000 captured, and Greece was effectively forced out of the war, although a vigorous resistance movement lasted throughout the Axis occupation. Italian casualties were far heavier and amounted to over 100,000 as a result of their six month fight with Greece.[62]

Effect on World War II

Greek resistance in World War II may have been a turning point in the war. Some historians such as John Keegan believe that the German invasion of Greece delayed the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union by six weeks. Hitler planned the invasion of the Soviet Union to take place on May 15, 1941 but it was not until June 22, 1941 when the invasion was launched. This delay proved costly as it forced the Axis Powers to fight through the Russian Winter. The German army was unable to capture Moscow and its advance towards the Caucasus was delayed as a result. Adolf Hitler in conversation with Leni Riefenstahl would bitterly say that "if the Italians hadn't attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course. We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad".[63] Other historians such as Antony Beevor claim that it was not Greek resistance that delayed the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, but instead the slow construction of airfields in Eastern Europe.[64]

The Axis Occupation of Greece, which came as a result of the Battle of Greece, proved to be a difficult and costly task. The occupation led to the creation of several resistance groups. These resistance groups launched guerilla attacks against the occupying forces and set up espionage networks. The vigorous resistance movement forced the Axis Powers to station hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Greece, when those soldiers could have been better used elsewhere. Famous acts of resistance include the taking down of the Nazi flag off the Acropolis by Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas and the destruction of the railway bridge over the Gorgopotamos gorge. Greek civilians suffered terrible hardships as a result of the brutal occupation. From 1940 to 1945 Greece counted, according to Russian historian Vadim Erlikman, 435,000 casualties.[65]

At the same time, the politically-motivated decision to send British forces into Greece is considered, in the words of General Alan Brooke, "a definite strategic blunder", as it denied Wavell the necessary reserves to complete the conquest of Italian-held Libya after Operation Compass, or to successfully withstand Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps March offensive, while being totally inadequate to prevent the collapse of Greece. Thereby it arguably prolonged the North African Campaign, which otherwise might have been successfully concluded within 1941.

Homage to the Greek resistance

Battle of Greece

Date: 6 April 1941 – 30 April 1941
Location: Greece
Result: Axis victory



United Kingdom,
New Zealand


Maximilian von Weichs

Alexander Papagos


3 armies 4 corps

Bulgaria: ?

Greece: 2 armies
British Commonwealth:
2 divisions
1 armored brigade


1,533 dead
3,362 wounded
13,755 dead,
25,067 missing,
50,874 wounded,
12,368 captured (Italy)

15,700 dead or missing British Commonwealth
25,000 dead or captured

Balkans Campaign

Battle of Greece-Battle of Crete -

The measure of resistance was paid considerable homage to by German officials. Hitler's Chief of Staff, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel stated during the Nuremberg Trials, "the unbelievably strong resistance of the Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different in the eastern front and in the war in general."[66] Adolf Hitler ordered that no Greek soldier shall be taken prisoner and that those who were, were to be released immediately out of respect of their bravery.[67]

A speech Adolf Hitler made at the Reichstag in 1941 said of the campaign: "It must be said, for the sake of historical truth, that amongst all our opponents, only the Greeks fought with such endless courage and defiance of death."[68] The diary of Joseph Goebbels 9 April 1941: "I forbid the Press to underestimate the Greeks, to defame them.... The Führer admires the bravery of Greeks."[69]

The measure of Greek resistance was paid homage and aroused admiration around the world. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say "until now we would say that the Greeks fight like heroes. From now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks."[70] American President Franklin Roosevelt would say "all free peoples are deeply impressed by the courage and steadfastness of the Greek nation ... which is defending itself so valiantly."[71] Joseph Stalin, in an open letter read over the air on Radio Moscow short wave on numerous occasions during the war, would say "the Russian people will always be grateful to the Greeks for delaying the German army long enough for winter to set in, thereby giving us the precious time we needed to prepare. We will never forget."[72]


  1. ^ Collier, Richard (1971). Duce!. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670286036 p. 180
  2. ^ Collier, Richard (1971). Duce!. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670286036 p. 180
  3. ^ Keegan, P. 144
  4. ^ Buckley, p. 18
  5. ^ Ciano, Galeazzo (1946). The Ciano Diaries 1939-1943. Doubleday & Company. ASIN B000IVT93U. P. 247
  6. ^ Buckley, P.17
  7. ^ Christopher Buckley Greece and Crete 1941, (London: 1952; P. Efstathiadis & Sons S.A.:1984) ISBN 960-226-041-6, p. 16-18
  8. ^ Buckley, p 17
  9. ^ Buckley, p. 19
  10. ^ Buckley, p. 18-20
  11. ^ Chronology of World War II: March 16, 1941Date Accessed October 10, 2006
  12. ^ Bailey, p. 22
  13. ^ Chronology of World War II: March 16, 1941Date Accessed October 10, 2006
  14. ^ Beevor, p. 26
  15. ^ Beevor, p. 38
  16. ^ See order of battle at World War II-Orders of Battle and Organizations:Balkan Operations
  17. ^ Beevor, p. 60
  18. ^ Bailey, Robert H. (1979). Partisans and Guerrillas (World War II). Time Life UK. ISBN 0809424908 p. 37
  19. ^ Bailey, p. 37
  20. ^ Buckley, p. 40-45
  21. ^ Buckley, p. 30-33
  22. ^ Beevor p. 33
  23. ^ Buckley p. 50
  24. ^ Buckley p. 50
  25. ^ Buckley, p. 61
  26. ^ Hondros, John (1983). Occupation and Resistance: The Greek Agony 1941-44. Pella Pub Co. ISBN 0918618193 p. 52
  27. ^ Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), 2001, "The roof is leaking: Vevi and Sotir 9–14 April 1941". Downloaded 9/10/06.
  28. ^ KG Witt was comprised of an infantry battalion, two light machine gun platoons, a heavy machine gun platoon, three anti-tank platoons, two engineer platoons, a light field howitzer troop and an 88mm Flak platoon. W.G. McClymont, 1959, To Greece: Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, Historical Publications Branch, Wellington, New Zealand, p.194
  29. ^ McClymont, ibid, p.205 and DVA, 2001 op. cit.
  30. ^ McClymont, ibid, p.205
  31. ^ Smith, p. 94
  32. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  33. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  34. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  35. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  36. ^ Beevor, p. 39
  37. ^ Bailey, p. 32
  38. ^ Smith, p. 95
  39. ^ Buckley, p. 113
  40. ^ Keegan, p. 157
  41. ^ Keegan, P. 158
  42. ^ Hondros, p. 90
  43. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  44. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  45. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  46. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  47. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  48. ^ Official Histories – Second World War Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953) accessed 13 October, 2006
  49. ^ Bailey, p. 33
  50. ^ Smith, p. 108
  51. ^ Macdougall Pg. 195
  52. ^ Hadjipateras and Fafalios, p. 248-249
  53. ^ Bailey, p. 33
  54. ^ Macdougall pg. 194
  55. ^ Macdougall pg. 195
  56. ^ Smith, p. 112
  57. ^ Bailey, P. 54
  58. ^ Beevor, P. 231
  59. ^ Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, John Murray Ltd, 1991. Penguin Books, 1992. Boulder : Westview Press, 1994. Pbk ISBN 0-14-016787-0 p. 231
  60. ^ Keegan, p. 158
  61. ^ Keegan, p. 158
  62. ^ Collier, Richard (1971). Duce!. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670286036 p. 180
  63. ^ Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir. (Picador New York, USA. 1987) p. 295 ISBN 0312119267
  64. ^ Beevor, p. 230
  65. ^ Vadim Erlikman. Poteri narodonaseleniia v XX veke : spravochnik. Moscow 2004. ISBN 5-93165-107-1.
  66. ^ Lest we forget the 28th of October of 1940, by Peter N. Yiannos, Ph.D
  67. ^ Adolf Hitler's speech to the Reichstag on May 4, 1941accessed October 10, 2006
  68. ^ Adolf Hitler's speech to the Reichstag on May 4, 1941
  69. ^ Joseph Goebbels The Goebbels Diaries,1939-1941, (H. Hamilton 1982) ISBN 0241108934
  70. ^ Reflections on the 65th Anniversary of the day Greece answered no and once again changed the course of history, by Chris P. Tomarasaccessed October 10, 2006
  71. ^ Reflections on the 65th Anniversary of the day Greece answered no and once again changed the course of history, by Chris P. Tomaras accessed October 10, 2006
  72. ^ Reflections on the 65th Anniversary of the day Greece answered no and once again changed the course of history, by Chris P. Tomara saccessed October 10, 2006


  • Bailey, Robert H. (1979). Partisans and Guerrillas (World War II). Time Life UK. ISBN 0809424908.
  • Barber, Laurie and Tonkin-Covell, John. Freyberg : Churchill's Salamander, Hutchinson 1990. ISBN 1-86941-052-1
  • Beevor, Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, John Murray Ltd, 1991. Penguin Books, 1992. Pbk ISBN 0-14-016787-0 Boulder : Westview Press, 1994. LCCN 93047914
  • Bitzes, John (1989). Greece in World War II: To April 1941. Sunflower University Press. ISBN 0897450930.
  • Bosworth, R.J.B (2002). Mussolini. A Hodder Arnold Publication. ISBN 0340731443.
  • Buckley, Christopher,Greece and Crete 1941, (London: 1952; P. Efstathiadis & Sons S.A.:1984) ISBN 960-226-041-6
  • Ciano, Galeazzo (1946). The Ciano Diaries 1939-1943. Doubleday & Company. ASIN B000IVT93U.
  • Collier, Richard (1971). Duce!. Viking Adult. ISBN 0670286036.
  • Fafalios, Maria, and Hadjipateras, Costas, Greece 1940-41: Eyewitnessed (Athens: 1995; Efstathiadis Group) ISBN 9602265337
  • Hondros, John (1983). Occupation and Resistance: The Greek Agony 1941-44. Pella Pub Co. ISBN 0918618193.
  • Riefenstahl, Leni, Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir. (Picador New York, USA. 1987) ISBN 0312119267
  • Smith, A.C. (1953). Historical Study: The German Campaigns in the Balkans (Spring 1941) [Dept of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-261]. Department of the Army. ASIN B000FH2RQ8.
  • Macdougall, A.K (2004). Australians ar War A Pictorial History. The Five Mile Press. ISBN 186503865-2.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Bevin (2001). How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Fatal Errors That Led to Nazi Defeat. Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0609808443.
  • Cervi, Mario 1972,The Hollow Legions Chatto and Windus London. ISBN 0-7011-1351-0.
  • Harokopos, George. The Fortress Crete, subtitled on cover '1941-1944' and within 'The Secret War 1941-1944' and 'Espionage and Counter-Espionage in Occupied Crete', Seagull Publications. Greek paperback edition/English translation: B. Giannikos & Co., Athens, 1993. Translation and comments by Spilios Menounos. Pbk ISBN 960-7296-35-4
  • Hellenic Army General Staff (1997). An Abridged History of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German War, 1940-1941 (Land Operations). Athens: Army History Directorate Editions. No ISBN available OCLC 45409635.
  • Keegan, John (2005). The Second World War. Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition. ISBN 0143035738.
  • Mazower, Mark (2001). Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44. Yale University Press; New Ed edition. ISBN 0300089236.
  • Papagos, Alexander, The Battle of Greece 1940–1941, J.M. Scazikis “Alpha”, editions Athens. 1949 ASIN B0007J4DRU.
  • Rigopoulos, Rigas (2003). Secret War: Greece-Middle East 1940-1945: The Events Surrounding the Story of Service 5-16-5. Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 1563118866.
  • Shores, Christopher (1992). Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete 1940-1941. Grub Street. ISBN 0948817070.
  • Stassinopoulos, Costas, Modern Greeks: Greece in World War II: The German Occupation and National Resistance and Civil War, American Hellenic Institute Foundation, Inc. 2005 ISBN 1889247014
  • Willingham, Mathew (2005). Perilous Commitments: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941. Spellmount Publishers. ISBN 1862272360.
  • Zotos, Stephanos (1967). Greece:The Struggle For Freedom. ASIN B0006BRA38.


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